Students rally at Iowa Capitol to demand change on guns

Scenes from the March For Our Lives rally held in the Iowa Capitol on Jan 8. Photos by Ty Rushing/Starting Line

By Nikoel Hytrek

January 8, 2024

Monday marked the start of the 2024 Iowa Legislative session and Iowans kicked it off by demanding lawmakers listen to what they want and put the people of Iowa first this year.

Two events ran together, one hosted by the Iowa chapter of March For Our Lives (MFOL) and the other hosted by multiple Iowa organizations including One Iowa, the League of Women Voters, Progress Iowa, Common Good Iowa, and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa.

Gun violence was a common theme in the wake of the shooting at Perry High School Thursday morning, where two were killed—including the shooter—and five more were injured.

“Each day, families must choose between sending their children to school to get an education or keeping them at home to protect their safety,” said Hannah Hayes, co-executive director of MFOL Iowa.

“Gov. [Kim] Reynolds can make this choice easier by passing gun legislation that will actually keep children safe because we choose policy and change over thoughts and prayers,” she continued.

Students across the state also walked out of school on Monday to protest gun violence and demand legislators pass laws that would promote gun safety in the state.

Trey Jackson, legislative affairs director for MFOL Iowa, introduced three types of legislation their organization would like to see:

  • mandated reporting to law enforcement of lost or stolen firearms,
  • closing loopholes that allow people convicted of misdemeanors to own firearms
  • extreme risk protection laws—also known as red flag laws—which would allow law enforcement to take guns from people who are in crisis and keep them from committing violence against themselves or others.

“I know many of us are missing school, work or have a thousand other things we’d rather be doing, but we must continue to find it in ourselves to push legislation that we need to stay safe in our schools and in our communities. If we can find the time, then so should our legislators,” he said.

Legislators also spoke at the rally, including Senate Minority Leader Pam Jochum, who announced Democrats were introducing the gun safety legislation MFOL Iowa presented.

“Ending gun violence should not be a partisan issue. Keeping our children safe in schools should not be a partisan issue,” she said.

Akshara Eswar, the other co-executive director of MFOL Iowa, said the shooting at Perry was almost a year after the Jan. 23, 2023 shooting at Starts Right Here, an alternative school in downtown Des Moines for struggling students, and almost two years after the March 7, 2022 drive-by shooting outside East High School in Des Moines.

“Yet what did Kim Reynolds do? Offer more thoughts and prayers that don’t do anything to solve this epidemic?” she said.

Akshara then shared statistics about gun violence deaths, including Centers for Disease Control data from 2022 showing that firearms are the number one cause of death for children for three years in a row.

“Students living in fear has become normalized. I should not have to be scared of going to school,” she said. “I should not have to worried every time we have a fire drill or an assembly. I should not have to live in a world where I am more likely to die by gunshot than any other thing.”

The students also wrote a letter to Reynolds, which they delivered to her office on Monday after the rally.

In it, they call out Reynolds’ comments about previous shootings and her failure to solve the problem. They also call out her rhetoric about protecting children, and her actions to push private school vouchers, ban books, ban abortion, and restrict the rights of trans students.

“However, you have failed to protect the students at East. You have failed to protect the students at Start Right Here. And you have failed to protect the children of Perry. And without meaningful gun safety legislation, you have failed to protect the citizens of Iowa from the inevitable gun violence yet to come,” Jackson read.

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].



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